Sierra has familiar company in Division IV.
The defending Sac-Joaquin Section champion in this bracket will be joined by cross-town foe Manteca, which dropped in division because of declining enrollment and became a runaway favorite to earn the program’s fifth section title.
East Union, meanwhile, stays in Division III. This marks just the second time in city history (2010) that all three schools will have football teams in the playoffs.
With Veterans Day falling on Friday, all games are scheduled for a 7 o’clock kickoff Thursday night, unless both schools agree to play on the holiday or Saturday. Ripon, a Division V qualifier, opens the postseason Friday.
Manteca (9-1) was the easy choice for the top seed in Division IV. No. 8 Dixon (6-4) visits Guss Schmiedt Field. The Buffaloes would have likely been the No. 2 seed behind Valley Oak League rival Oakdale in the more challenging Division III field, where they captured their last section banner in 2013.
Oakdale secured the top spot in D3 by upsetting Central Catholic (No. 5 in D2) 34-21 on Friday. It also forced a three-way share of the VOL championship, as Manteca held off Oakdale 30-22 in Week 9.
No. 4 Los Banos (7-3) and No. 5 El Dorado (8-2) are also on the top half of the Division IV bracket.
Sierra (6-4) is seeded third for a second straight year. Last season, the Timberwolves sneaked in with a 5-5 record and won five straight postseason games to grab their first section, NorCal and state (Division IV-A) championships.
They’ll have a tougher — and possibly longer — road back to the final round should they get past No. 6 Center (7-3) of Antelope. Awaiting the winner in the semifinals is No. 2 Placer (5-5) of Auburn or No. 7 Liberty Ranch (8-2) of Galt, which are part of co-championships in the Pioneer Valley League and Sierra Valley Conference, respectively. Sierra blasted Liberty Ranch 42-0 in the 2015 Division IV title game.
The only way for Manteca and Sierra to square off for a second time this season is for both to make the finals. The Buffaloes clobbered their rival 48-13 in league.
East Union (6-4) looms as a darkhorse in the top-heavy Division III. The 13th-seeded Lancers are looking to notch their first postseason win since 1992. To end that skid they’ll have to knock off a battle-tested Del Campo (5-5) squad in Fair Oaks on Thursday. No. 2 American Canyon (9-1) and No. 3 Christian Brothers (8-2), which Manteca blew out in a nonleague game in September, round out the top four seeds.
Ripon (6-4) also travels for the first round. After losing to Hilmar 21-7 in the Trans Valley League championship game last Friday, the Indians were tabbed the No. 5 seed in Division V and heads to Sacramento’s Capital Christian (8-2). The winner has a daunting task ahead with top-seeded Sonora (10-0) likely to dispatch No. 8 Modesto Christian (5-5). Sonora previously handled Ripon 69-7 in Week 2.